Marketing Yourself as a Photographer

Discover how to promote your photography and win new clients.

In talk show, recorded LIVE, Karl sits down with Visual Education Marketing Executive Emma to discuss the various strategies you can use to market your services. They cover assessing local supply and demand, gauging the quality of your own work, and finding your niche and price point.

The benefits and limitations of social media are also up for discussion, particularly the value of platforms like Instagram and how that value fluctuates depending on whether you’re doing B2B or B2C marketing. Using LinkedIn for networking and promotion also features.

Karl describes how he spread the word about his work when he was first starting out. This leads to a discussion of physical portfolios vs digital ones, and the merits of sending out physical portfolios at a time when remote work has become the norm for many people.

If you’re interested in working with an agent, Karl and Emma provide some tips and look at some top agency websites. They also weigh up the pros and cons of using your own name as the name of your brand. They then highlight some simple strategies for making sure your business is visible on Google, as well as the importance of keeping records and building your own database.

The most important thing, as Karl emphasizes, is believing in yourself and being willing to put in the (sometimes very) hard work to promote your photography.

In this talk show:

  • Marketing for photographers
  • Pricing your photography
  • Naming and developing your brand
  • Building and sharing your portfolio
  • Using social media for networking and promotion
  • Working with photography agencies

Here are some of the online resources that Karl and Emma refer to:

Some of the classes mentioned in this show include Interview With Wedding Photographer David Stanbury and Business Advice for Photographers: Supply and Demand, Pricing and Marketing.

Comments or questions? Please feel free to post them below.


  1. Mario Bertolini

    Hey KTE Team
    great Video, thank you for that – it helps a lot!
    I have a question – if i did a speculative pic for a company and after showing them, they want to use it – should i charge them anything or give it away for free in hoping to get some future jobs?
    br Mario

    1. Hi Mario, yes it’s very tricky. I would say it depends on what they intended to use it for compared to how likely they are to book you in the future. I’m afraid I can’t make that guess for you!

  2. 😀
    great video guys. I like it’s ground to earth and not just some motivational “youcanreachthesky” thing. I would like to see more material about business.
    thanks for sharing.

  3. Thank you, Karl and Emma for taking the time to make such a video packed full of awesome advice and
    knowledge… This is a video that needs to be watched many times. :0)
    My thoughts were to make a booklet (25 qty) of what I felt was my best work and send that to ad agencies.
    If the ad agency thought my work was not up to par, perhaps they would take the time to tell me when I followed up with a phone call. But I can keep second guessing myself and never find the right time to try.
    I don’t have the idea that Skyy Vodka is going to hire me…… but it’s on my bucket list…. :0)
    LOL Have to have a long-range goal, right!

  4. Much more informative than I anticipated. Several good points made by both of you that I will need to ponder and further research!

  5. Very nice talk Karl and Emma. This is the first I watched and I will catch up with the ones mentioned and more for sure.
    All the best,

  6. Thank you! Yes, it is really hard for me to speak with people with confidence. Obviously lockdown didn’t help. That is why before marketing myself as a photographer, I am desperately trying to find a job as an assistant, but without any actual work experience it is really hard, practicing at home is not considered as experience. And I also feel that I am getting out of time, I am 32 and just getting into it, while many much younger photographers are already are in a really high level. I don’t have lot of equipment, only one small flash, trying to build at least a decent portfolio, and I would really love to know what you think of it, when you have a little time Karl and Emma 🙂
    And would be also curious in what conditions you hire/would hire your assistants.
    this is my portfolio:

    Thank you again!❤️

    1. If you think you are young to be starting, I’m 56 and I’m just starting myself. I wish I could be starting at age 32! From my point of view, 32 is still quite young. When I was 32 I was just starting my career as CG artist in feature films. After that, I had a couple other careers, as a university lecturer, researcher, fine artist, and author. You’d be surprised how much you can do at 32.

    2. Hi Simona, thank you for submitting your question to the show, hopefully some of the ideas put forward will help you find ways to make it easier for you. I don’t think your age is a big deal a lot can be achieved in your portfolio and your marketing in just a couple of years. I don’t think David Lund started in photography until 40. Unfortunately we are unable to spend time assessing your portfolio as that is only available to our platinum members and it would be unfair on the rest of our members to do so. It takes a great deal of time to assess someones work properly and constructively especially across many images. Please look at the genres you want to focus on and then assess your images against the standard of other high quality professionals as explained in this live show. All the best Karl.

  7. I’m curious about this myself because times seem to have changed a lot from the days when I was an art director and had to hire freelancers all the time. Back in 2003, the last year I worked as an art director, I hated it when people would send me expensive-looking portfolios. It made me feel like they were over-compensating for weak work.

    The reason is that the best work was never in the fancy boxes. The fancy presentations were usually kids in their graduation year of college, or just graduated. I did like mailers if the images were good. The issue was finding someone who was right for an assignment. Quite often, the assignments were inappropriate for any given artist’s style (I hired CG artists and illustrators, not photographers). That meant I’d have examples of work I liked but had no present use for.

    The people I actually hired almost always came from a referral. I had agents approach me often with their stable of artists but only hired one of these guys, a CG lighting specialist. For the most part, I did not like dealing with agents. From the freelancer’s point of view, they may sound attractive but on the other side of the desk, I rarely heard positive comments about them. One of my supervisors, who was at the time president of Universal’s game studio, described agents as “pond scum” fairly often. To be fair, he hated paying the 20% commission to the agent (because the artist’s fee would be increased significantly to accommodate this). For that reason, I was ordered to never hire a freelancer shopped by an agent.

    My favorite place to find artists was either annual directories that have large ads placed by the individual artist or photographer, or at conventions for CG artists.

    The expensive presentations, btw, are perfectly fine if I’ve called the artist in to see their work. In those situations, I appreciate the nice presentation. What I don’t like is an unknown person throwing a portfolio in my lap through the mail or some kind of courier that obviously cost $1,000 or so to make. I much prefer a brochure in the mail or an inexpensive portfolio like the one Karl showed in today’s live show. This may be my own peculiarity but I do not like to be responsible for something so expensive, particularly when it won’t help persuade me to hire the artist. The work will do that all by itself.

    I have seen a lot of people hired for all sorts of assignments on the basis of either a fairly cheap presentation of excellent work or a casual recommendation from someone they trust in the industry. I’ve done it myself on multiple occasions. Early in my career, when I was selling, not buying, it went the same way.

    I pounded the pavement in NYC, spending my days dropping off my portfolio in person or making appointments to see art buyers, then making new work in the evenings. I didn’t get work until someone I knew of from school allowed me to use his name at Time magazine. Then I started getting hired by them and even did a cover.

    In photography, my work has come from people I meet outside of my marketing efforts. For instance, I was testing a lens in Rotterdam one day, happened to catch a game-winning dunk shot at a small basketball tournament, and then started getting invited to shoot games for the group that put on the tournaments. After one or two of those, they started hiring me to shoot the games, then they started hiring me and various lighting gear to shoot portraits of their players. The “marketing” was all about making friends, nothing more.

    In the US, a photographer I knew from FB wasn’t able to do an assignment due to covid restrictions, so he called out to his FB friends to help out. The client was Verizon, and I managed to sell them a couple of images for the job through that photographer. Again, I wasn’t marketing myself to Verizon or the photographer, it just worked out that way.

    I suspect that marketing to break in is less effective than marketing after you’ve broken in. Do you have any thoughts on that Karl?

    1. Hi Apaq, some interesting points but in my experience I’ve always seen the art directors get excited about anything with good design, whether that be the cover, packaging or typography on a portfolio but I agree none of them were stupid enough to fall for great design but hollow content inside the portfolio. As for agents 20% I agree that may be the case with some but I’ve also found that a lot of companies don’t want to take risk, they’re not always sure who is the best so they use agents (rightly or wrongly) as a kind of curator of whether the photographer is good or not. With regards an expensive portfolio being delivered to you I think it’s fine as long as they are also arranging a courier to collect it, but I agree that an amazing box with mediocre work isn’t as strong as more modest presentation with exceptional work inside. Finally yes networking, contacts and who you know or who you come to know through word of mouth is something we should have give more precedence to as this is very important.

      1. Hello Karl,
        Thanks for your answer. I wonder if you have a comment on my last question, which I’ll quote here: “I suspect that marketing to break in is less effective than marketing after you’ve broken in.”

        1. Hi Apaq, yes I’d agree with that as it’s always easier to maintain a relationship than it is to start one from scratch.

  8. Karl, what is the point to set up as photographer when Rolex and Mercedes Benz are leading the way to CGI?
    H&M in 2018 were photographing manikins and then doing CGI on the face and hands from models stock shots.
    Isnt just better to set up as Photographic Artist and just do retouchg deploying CGI ?

    1. Hi Stylehot, it’s a good point and many of the young up and coming photographers I know are already doing both. I think tomorrows image creation business will need both sets of skills because I don’t expect photography will go away for many other things.

    2. CG has serious limitations that aren’t obvious if you haven’t done CG work yourself. Some things are fairly easy to do, others are very difficult. Where the project lands on the difficulty scale determines whether it is appropriate to use CG. For example, I once spent 6 weeks texturing the façade of a building for the movie Daredevil. I got paid very well to do it but a six week turnaround for textures, not to mention modeling, lighting, and rendering, isn’t practical for a still image, as opposed to the 90 seconds or so of screen time that this building got.

      Some things can be slapped together quickly out of pre-built 3D assets. This is how a lot of architectural visualization is done. Specialists in that field own libraries of furniture, wallpapers, lighting setups, and so on. A client will give them a 3D model of their project, and then they fill it with library assets. Those can go from start to finish in a couple of days but most aren’t up to the quality standard a good photographer brings to an assignment like that.

      Vehicles can be done fairly easily because the client should have perfect 3D models of their vehicle to give you. They will be an exact 3D match for the vehicle and will already have all the right materials attached to them. The only issue for the 3D artist is to put it into a 3D environment and light it correctly. Thanks to physical based renderers (PBRs), realistic lighting is trivial to accomplish. However, well-designed lighting, the kind of lighting Karl talks about in his videos, is more difficult. Still, once you’ve done a few of these, you can re-use many of your previously worked-out solutions on new assignments.

      If I was the art director at a company like Audi, I’d be very tempted to use CG for car ads because it is so much easier to light a vehicle in CG than in a studio or on location. That said, I would want photography for the location and then would make a comp of the two. The reason is that almost any realistic environment can be extremely difficult to make at a standard that would be convincingly realistic. Some are easier than others but most are too complex to turn around in the available time frame. Even then, most CG environments, no matter how well done they are, lack visual information needed for them to be convincing. If you freeze frame any scene from the all CG movie “Cars”, particularly the outdoor landscapes, and then compare them to landscape photography of the same or similar locations, you’ll see what I mean.

      Close-ups of vehicle interiors are not that hard to make if the client gives you an accurate CG model of the vehicle. These can be very convincing as CG but when I look at CG renderings like this and compare them to photos of the same subjects, I always prefer the photos for aesthetic reasons. Also, lighting the interiors and exterior details isn’t the same challenge as dealing with the entire car at once. On top of that, photography is a bit more flexible here in that multiple views can be composed and tested more quickly than with CG. The reason is that to understand a composition properly, you have to have the right colors and shadows to evaluate them. That can only be done by hitting the render button and waiting for the result. You can guess based on a shaded view but won’t really know what you have until you render. With a camera, you can just change your position, press the shutter release, and know exactly what you have.

      Liquids, I hate to say, are getting easier to make in CG with programs like RealFlow. One serious advantage of CG liquids is that you can control the shapes in ways that are either impossible or difficult with real fluids. Another is that you don’t make a huge mess that has to be cleaned up periodically between shots. Also, changing things like color, viscosity, etc., are trivial operations. However, though trivial to execute, it can take a lot of trial and error to arrive at the right balance of material properties. Another disadvantage is that it can take quite a while to run a simulation, even on a heavy duty dedicated machine. That said, I enjoy photographing fluids a great deal and wouldn’t want to sacrifice the fun of it for making CG renderings.

      The aesthetics of CG fluids are comparable to photography from what I’ve seen, if for no other reason but that fluid moves so quickly that we cannot easily see with the naked eye what fluid frozen in motion looks like. Therefore, there is more wiggle room between the realism of photography and the artificiality of a CG image.

      Product shots, like bottles against plain backgrounds, particularly highly reflective materials with complex shapes, are very well-suited for the CG treatment. A huge advantage to CG here is that you can designate that certain lights cast light and shadows but are not reflected in the scene. The same is true of your camera. Instead of making a cut out in a sheet of white or black foam core to slide over your lens to hide all but the lens of your camera, you can set it up so the camera is invisible to the renderer. You can also set up one light to cast shadows, then every other light only casts light without shadows. That means you won’t get overlapping shadow regions. You can also designate that each light only affects certain objects. If you want to cast a highlight on a sideview mirror but don’t want it to glance off any other part of the car, you just assign the light to that object and it won’t touch anything else.

      As soon as you introduce people into the shots, the level of complexity goes far beyond what CG can accomplish well in a reasonable amount of time. CG can be used for people in still images, but to look good, it should be limited to background characters at a fair distance from the camera, not featured models. An exception is if you want the CG look, like a 3D cartoon of Captain Crunch for a cereal ad. Another exception is if you have pre-built textured and rigged models, such as the many models that have been made for the Marvel movies. Even then, though the faces of those models look like the actors and have been rigged to reproduce just about any human expression, it would be easier to photograph the actors if you had access. Also, the result would likely be superior because the actor’s acting ability is much greater than most animator’s ability to imbue personality into the expressions of their CG models.

      Bottom line on this is that, particularly after watching many of Karl’s tutorials, I would rather hire a photographer for most jobs over a CG artist. I would be more sympathetic to the idea of hiring a CG artist for a shot of a bottle of laundry detergent being splashed with water or a car. For the car, another consideration is that they may not have built the car at the time they commission the ad. In those cases, you’d have no choice but to use the CG model. One of my former students worked for Audi in Germany for a couple of years doing exactly that.

      1. Thank you for taking the time to provide info.
        Bottom line, most Art Directors are just keyboard gangsters, naive, misinformed and plainly daft. They come up with ideas that defy reality. For example, why would you have water splashing on a bottle of Vodka when Vodka is never drunk with water? Why would have rusty knife and fork in a rustic food shot? Who eats with rusty knife and fork?
        Why do want want to create a fake image to sell a product? CGI is a fake image. End of story
        Fake description and images are a breach of the Consumer Act 2015 in the UK. Every CGI image should carry a clear unambiguous declaration that it is CGI and not the real product
        This practice would soon limit the use of CGI and retouching
        No big brand would want the stigma of being associated with fake images

  9. Very informative and eye opening.

    Something that I’m thinking about, is what is the consensus among art buyers/directors regarding how they feel about receiving promotional material ?
    I know there was a study done by a U.S organization, but I’ve misplaced it.

    I’d really be interested in knowing what material they prefer, and how they are treated.
    Do they like getting portfolios or would they prefer single page promo pieces, for example ?

    I realize that Karl is not a director/buyer, but perhaps he has more insight in this regard.

    1. Hi Michael, I can’t speak for all art directors but the ones I know and how they are is that they ogle over anything that looks cool. They usually come from a design background so anything that has great design or something inspiring and they’re all over it from a packaging or design point of view. The next thing they love is typography and images so I think if the promotional material looks cool then they’ll be wanting to look at it. It’s just the nature of their background and personalities.

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